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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Enough with attacks on the CMC


While most Americans were enjoying the Christmas holiday with friends and family, I had the absolute privilege of traveling with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Jim Amos and his wife Bonnie to Afghanistan in the Helmand province.  General and Mrs. Amos could have spent Christmas anywhere in the world but both wanted nothing more than to spend their last Christmas in the Marine Corps with forward-deployed Marines.  General and Mrs. Amos exemplify leadership.

That is why when I was made aware of the most recent attacks against the general and his wife I had to take action and voice my opinion.  It pains me so much to see the repeated, ridiculous attacks against them both.  It is unprecedented in the history of our Corps to repeatedly attack one of our own and to sit idly by and let others do it too.

The attacks are driven almost entirely by a single news organization we are all familiar with.  The attacks are personal and designed to drive a wedge between him and Marines all across the globe.  Sadly, they have achieved some level of success in this regard.  Their latest stunt is to create an issue over the placement of their product in our exchanges.  Give me a break, this is a crisis?  They created the issue, it was designed by them, for them, simply devised to do nothing but generate sales for their bottom line, nothing more.  The staff in our exchanges moves products around every day.  You’ve never heard Budweiser cry because they didn’t get placed in the front of the cooler.  If you’re confident in your product just stand behind it, don’t create news that doesn’t exist and slander people in the process.

Sadly and shockingly, U.S. Representative Walter Jones, 3rd District, NC, has somehow felt obligated to enter into this discussion.  Please allow me to say what none of you wearing the uniform can say, “Enough already  Congressman Jones”. Let me remind you, you sir are a congressman, not a salesman for a newspaper organization. If this is the best use of your time, then your time has passed.  Please stop using the American tax dollars this way.  It is clearly time for you to move on; your work is done if this is the most important issue you are dealing with.  This “issue” is really none of your business.  Isn’t there something more important you should be doing?  I have a great idea North Carolina, vote for former Army Sergeant Jason Thigpen.  Thigpen is the purple-heart recipient running against Jones for Congress.  Vote for Jason Thigpen.

Never in the history of our Marine Corps has an external enemy turned Marines against their Commandant. My personal message to all Marines is to step up, do what we do best and that’s protecting our own.  We have a responsibility as the greatest fighting force on the earth to stop this. I professionally and personally know Gen Amos and his wife.  I can tell you that every time I leave his presence I say to myself; I can only hope that someday I can be half the Marine, Leader, Husband, Father, Grandfather and friend that cares about others the way this man does. My request is simple; please stand with me and defend OUR Commandant because he always stands by us. General Amos and Bonnie have my enduring support.   

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reflecting on a Year

Today is my birthday; I'm 24 years-old.

In many ways, I feel much older than my 24 years.  It seems I've experienced a lot of things that most people my age have not.  And although I'm not a big fan of reflecting on the past, I can't help but think about how much has changed in my life in the past year.

I think for most people, the time between 23 and 24 is pretty uneventful.  Most are trying to settle into adult life at my age.  But, the last 12 months of my life have been anything but uneventful.

As I'm boarding a plane today, to travel to Virginia to speak to another group about my experience as a Marine and the details surrounding my Medal of Honor, I'm thinking about how I spent my last birthday.  If I remember correctly, June 26, 2011 was much hotter than it is today, but maybe that's because I was spending the day working outside on a construction site, pouring concrete and tying steel.  That was a long day!

I would have never imagined then, that my life would be turned upside down in the way it has been since receiving the Medal of Honor, but these types of things cannot be expected, or even planned for.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the opportunities receiving the Medal of Honor have brought me.  I've visited interesting places and met wonderful people over the past year.  However, no matter if I'm standing on the 50 yard line of the New York Giants football field, sharing a beer with President Obama, or sharing my story with a group of strangers, the reality of the price that was paid for me to enjoy these opportunities is always on my mind.

I will never know why I was pulled from my team in Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.  I'll never know why my guys died and why I survived.  But I do know that I was given the opportunity to continue living for myself and for each of them.

Celebrating another year of life is a bit of struggle for me when I know my guys will never have the chance.  But, as I've said before, you can see situations in life as obstacles or as opportunities.  I choose to see the opportunity and to make the most of it. 

Tonight, when I speak to the group in Virginia, I'm going to tell the story of the my brothers, of their bravery and of their sacrifice.  And I'm going to do my best to seize the opportunity I've been given to live another year on this earth.

Here's to 24!
Dakota

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Memorial Day, the official start of summer, is upon us once more.  Pools are re-opened, barbeques are fired up and friends and family gather in backyards across the country to fellowship over burgers and beers.  Sure, this kick-off to a new season gives us all a reason to celebrate, but it also gives us the opportunity to stop and remember those who have given their lives for our freedom. 

We live in the greatest country in the world!  It isn't perfect here in the United States of America, but it's still better than anywhere else.  We enjoy freedoms here that allow us to choose our own paths and make our own decisions; freedoms that cannot be found anywhere else on this planet.  But these freedoms were not just given to us; they were earned by men and women willing to lay down their lives to protect them.

It's easy to become complacent in this country because we have enjoyed this way of living for so long that now we expect, rather than respect the abundance of choices that we have.  This becomes a problem when we start forgetting the price that was paid for us to live in this great country.

Many lives have been lost to protect our rights over the years, and the fight is never over.  We must continue to stand up for our country, for our freedom.  We must recognize and honor those who willingly volunteer to defend us.  And, we must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our homeland.

So, this weekend, as you celebrate Memorial Day, I hope you wear the red, white and blue with pride and you remember what this holiday is really about.  Think about the Americans living on the other side of the planet, in the Afghanistan heat.  Remember them as you sip your cool, refreshing lemonade.  Think about the families who would give anything to share one more backyard barbeque with a loved one they lost to war.  Think about the men and women who have died so that you can celebrate this holiday in the safety of your own home, with the comfort of your friends and family around.

We owe it to our country to fight for the memory of those who gave all.  Let us never forget!



Semper Fi,
Dakota

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Struggle

So, I have to say this week was by far one of the hardest weeks of my life...

They say time heals all wounds, but for me, it seems that the longer I wait and the more time that has passed, the harder it gets.

Marines are supposed to be the toughest men on Earth, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm struggling.  This week was especially hard because Tuesday was the 8th of the month.  My guys were killed on the 8th of September, 2009.  I'll admit that this week was filled with lots of tears, bad days and bad thoughts.

It seems that I have not accepted that my team is dead, which sounds crazy.  I've verbally stated that they are dead, I've shared the details of that day in Ganjgal Valley countless times with many people, but in my heart it's as if the reality hasn't hit me, yet.  It just seems like a bad dream that I'll eventually wake up from.

To avoid thinking about it I try to keep myself busy; running from it as long as possible, but I will say I'm getting really tired.  I'm slowing down.  What isn't slowing down though is the demons, the reality that my brothers, my best friends are gone... GONE... Gone forever. 

But what do you do?  Sit at home and cry?  Lay in bed?  Not eat?  Feel sorry for yourself?  I don't know.  I don't pretend to know. All I do know to do is to keep breathing and keep taking one step at a time, and sometimes that takes all my effort.  Feeling the loss of five of the most important people in my life isn't enough, though.  I also have to deal with knowing that I am a failure, and I failed them.  But I keep thinking that if I can continue pushing myself, in their names and in their honor, I will earn their forgiveness for not being there and saving them.  Hopefully, they will, someday, at least understand the reason I let them down...

I accept the responsibility of being a failure.  I hold myself accountable everyday and let everyone know that a failure is what I am; not a hero, as so many people have called me.  I cringe when I hear that word.

Everyday, and especially on the days when I don't even want to get out of bed, I look down at my wrists and I see their names and I know I have no choice but to push on in their honor and for sacrificies they gave!!! 

RIP
 Lt Michael E. Johnson, GySgt Aaron Kenefick, GySgt Edwin Johnson,
PO3 "Doc" James Layton, SFC Kenneth Westbrook.
Never Forgotten

Semper Fi,
Dakota

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Opportunities

Receiving the Medal of Honor last fall has created opportunities for me that I would have never imagined.  I've gotten to travel all over the country, I've met wonderful people and I've experienced an overwhelming feeling of love and support from every corner of our great nation.  Of all the new opportunities this Medal has offered me, one of my favorites is the opportunity I have to speak to groups across the country, sharing the story of my Medal of Honor; the story of my teammates.  When I give these talks, it's always my hope that I'll say something that will inspire someone in the audience.  In my speeches, I talk a lot about opportunity and accountability, so I wanted to take a moment today to share some of that message.

I've said many times that I accepted the Medal of Honor, not on my behalf, but on the behalf of my brothers who lost their lives, on behalf of all the men and women serving our country, and on behalf of those who gave all.  I believe that the only reason I am a Medal of Honor recipient is because I was given an opportunity.  On September 8, 2009, when everything that could have gone wrong in Ganjgal Valley, Afghanistan went wrong, I was given the opportunity to defy orders by doing what my family had raised me to do and what the Marine Corps had taught me to do; to leave no man behind.  I truly believe that any other man or woman in uniform, who would have found themselves in my position that day, would have done the same thing.  But it was me who was given that opportunity.

Now, I have an opportunity to make the most of the position I've found myself in, as a Medal of Honor recipient.  I have chosen to use the platform I've been given to try to make a difference in our world.  You see, everyday we are each faced with circumstances; sometimes favorable, often times not.  We can look at these circumstances as situations, or we can see them as opportunities.  I prefer opportunities because it has a much more positive connotation, and I encourage you to do the same.

What we do with the opportunities we are given defines us.  I didn't want to accept the Medal of Honor, when I first learned I would be receiving it.  Still, to this day, I struggle with my feelings of being a Medal of Honor recipient.  But I also realize that receiving the Medal of Honor gives me an opportunity, on a large scale, to bring recognition to our service members and to my brothers who gave their lives for each of us.  It's not always easy, but when I'm feeling tired and I'm losing my will to continue on, I look down at my wrists and I find my inspiration again.  I wear a band on each wrist with the engraved names of my heroes, my fallen brothers, and when I need a lift, I'm reminded that these guys don't have the opportunity to continue on and so I have to do that for them.



We are each provided chances to do something with our lives; to make a difference.  Sometimes it's hard, or even scary, to walk through that door of opportunity because there is no way of knowing where it may lead.  I had no idea that making the decision to enter the valley in Afghanistan would lead me to where I am today.  And I wish things had ended differently than they did.  But the fact is that I cannot control what happened back then, all I can do is move forward today. 

Traveling 25 days a month to speak to groups can be exhausting; even for a 23 year-old.  But I do it because I've been given this opportunity and every opportunity is a gift.  I'll leave you with the following quote and I hope you take it to heart.  I hope each of you take advantage of every opportunity you're given and make the most of your life.

"Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. 
They seem more afraid of life then death."
 ~James F. Byrnes

Semper Fi,
Dakota

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thank a Veteran

Advocating for veteran support has long been a passion of mine.  I grew up learning of the struggles veterans face when returning to civilian life from my grandfather, a veteran Marine. Now, a veteran myself, I know all to well the difficulties our service members deal with, in their attempts to find a new reality once they return from combat.

I wanted to write this blog today because I think it's hard for civilians to understand the position veterans are in, and why they face some of the issues that plague them after their military service is over.  I'm sure you've all read news articles highlighting the most common issues; homelessness, unemployment, the mental and physical conditions effecting many of our veterans.  But before you can begin trying to understand the cause of these issues, I think it's important to consider the biggest struggle our veterans face and that's the mental transition from active duty to civilian life.

The strength of our nation's military is based on a team mentality; everyone does everything the same way at the same time.  While serving, there are very few opportunities to make a decision on your own; most decisions are made for you by your leaders.  Regardless of what branch you serve, all members dress the same, walk the same, eat the same, operate on the same rigid schedule.  Now imagine the challenges one might face when trying to transition from that type of existence, back to a normal civilian existence.  No one is there to tell you what to do and how to do it, anymore.

Many of our service members, and especially those returning from combat, have been living their life in situations where every decision could mean life or death.  Upon returning home from war, it's difficult to find meaning in what most Americans know as everyday living.  There's a scene in the movie The Hurt Locker, that I think really sums up the point I'm making.

At the end of the movie, the main character has just returned home from Iraq.  While serving his tour, he was a part of a bomb squad and everyday he dealt with life or death situations.  In this scene, he's standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, just staring at all the boxes of breakfast options; unable to make a decision.  It's difficult for him to choose which cereal he wants to buy because the whole notion seems utterly ridiculous.  He's used to making decisions that will lead to continued life, or death.  Who cares what kind of cereal he picks out!

This scene really resonated with me, because I understand the struggle.  It's so important that our veterans receive the support they need to make a healthy transition to civilian life and I think the first step in that process is for all Americans to try and understand, or at least recognize, the issues our men and women in uniform are facing.

American civilians are blessed to have men and women who volunteer to serve and protect this great country of ours.  Because these people answer the call, others can sleep soundly in their own beds at night, they can enjoy family barbeques and work in the field of their choice, they can celebrate freedom of speech and of religion and they never have to experience the brutal reality of war. 

Our veterans sacrifice everything they have, many of them laying down their own lives, so that the rest of our people can enjoy freedom.  The very least owed to our veterans when they return home is to be shown compassion, gratitude and understanding.  I encourage everyone reading this blog to try and understand that returning home from war is just the first step down a very long road for our veterans.  They need all the love, support and recognition they can get. 

I hope you'll join me in my effort to raise awareness for these men and women and show them how much we appreciate all they have done for each of us.

Semper Fi!
Dakota

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What a Crew

I want to give a big shout out to the crew that spent the week with me in West Liberty.  What an awesome group!  I appreciate everyone taking a week off of their own lives to help the people of this Eastern Kentucky community. 

When Blake and I first started talking about ways we could help Morgan County, we talked about his company, Luxury Lawn & Landscape, donating trees to be planted throughout the community.  That initial discussion turned into us loading up five pieces of heavy machinery and recruiting a few other to join us in camping out for 4 days. 

It's been a great experience and although we're all exhausted and ready for a warm shower, we have all agreed that our work in West Liberty is not finished.  We'll be back. 

So, THANK YOU to Jeff, Randy, Blake, Bill, Mauricio and Tony for volunteering your time to help with the recovery efforts in West Liberty, Kentucky!



And, thank YOU to everyone who has followed this blog and shared in our experience.  I hope the pictures we've posted and the stories we've shared from this community have inspired you to do your part.  Until next time...

Semper Fi!
Dakota